First Run Features has announced that the documentary Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly will have virtual theatrical runs across the U.S. and Canada beginning Wednesday, July 8, 2020.
Directed by Cheryl Haines and co-directed by Gina Leibrecht, Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly begins with the story of how Weiwei’s father received an anonymous postcard while in exile as a dissident poet in the 1950s, and how this one small act of humanity had a profoundly moving and transformational impact on both father and son. In the film, Weiwei elaborates on this meaningful event, revealing candid details about his childhood, including years of privation on the edge of the Gobi Desert.
The years in the Gobi, along with Weiwei’s 2011 detention by Chinese authorities, became the inspiration for his revolutionary exhibition @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, a monumental presentation of new artworks addressing the struggle for fundamental human rights. The exhibition was organized in 2014 by Cheryl Haines (the film’s director and one of the most important voices in contemporary art in the U.S.).
Following his detention, the outspoken artist and activist (though still prevented from traveling abroad) transformed Alcatraz, America’s most notorious prison, into a powerful expression of socially engaged art without ever having set foot on the island. The @Large exhibition featured portraits made from LEGO bricks of prisoners of conscience from around the world. Throughout the film, we discover how personal these issues of injustice and incarceration are for Ai Weiwei and the extent to which he wove his family’s experiences into the exhibition.
For the final piece of the exhibition, Weiwei, inspired by his father’s story, invited visitors to write messages of hope to imprisoned activists using postcards imprinted with the national birds and flowers of the countries where the prisoners were being held. The project was named Yours Truly and by the time the exhibition ended, over 90,000 postcards had been sent across the globe. Then something even more astonishing happened: prisoners and their families began writing back!
Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly follows these postcards around the globe, from Alcatraz to Bahrain, Washington D.C., Cairo and beyond, as former prisoners of conscience, and the families of those still detained, reveal the comfort they found in messages from people they would never meet.
Ai Weiwei is among the world’s most celebrated contemporary artists and an outspoken critic of injustice, both in China and abroad. An ardent human rights activist, Ai was arrested by Chinese authorities on April 3, 2011, and held incommunicado for eighty-one days. For over four years following his release, he was prohibited from traveling abroad and subjected to ongoing government surveillance. Having relocated to Berlin, Ai continues to extend his practice across multiple disciplines, using exhibitions and social media to communicate with a global public. A vocal critic of the world’s response to refugees, he has made two documentary films on the subject: Human Flow (2017) which addresses the global refugee crisis, and The Rest (2019) which focuses on the plight of individual refugees living stateless in Europe. His most recent film is Vivos (2020), about a convoy of students from a rural teachers’ college in Mexico that was ‘disappeared’ in the drug cartel-afflicted Guerrero state.
AI WEIWEI: YOURS TRULY
Director: Cheryl Haines
Editor and Co-Director: Gina Leibrecht
Producers: Christy McGill, Cassandra Jabola
Directors of Photography: Dana Smillie, Jan Stürmann
Creative Producers: Sharon Wood, David Spalding
Executive Producers: Roger Evans & Aey Phanachet
Motion Graphics Editor: Sean Dana / 7G Productions
Music By: Wendy Blackstone
Cinematographers: Jan Stürmann, Dana Smillie
78 minutes | English, Mandarin, and Arabic | 2019